On your mark, get set, fire


April 23, 2007, midnight | By Miriam Ragen | 14 years, 5 months ago

Recreational guns present a game filled with risk and reward


"We thought it was a real bullet," junior Ben Simon says. "Luckily it wasn't." While in the sixth grade, Simon was hit by a bb pellet in the stomach, making the looming threat of bb gun injuries closer than ever before.

While air soft and bb guns, which are non-powder guns that use air, a spring or a pump to shoot instead of gun powder, are a legal and less harmful alternative to real firearms for teenagers, injuries are still commonplace. The seemingly realistic atmosphere created by using air soft and bb guns appeals to many Blair students, but the recreational activity is still dangerous.

Users of air soft guns run the risk of obtaining minor injuries such as bruises, welts and eye injuries, according to the Police and Security Organization. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2005 approximately 19,675 non-powder gun injuries were treated in United States emergency rooms. Of these injuries, 71 percent involved individuals 20 or under. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that bb guns should only be made available to people over 16 years old.

Today, firearms can be found in over half of the households in the Unites States, according to the CPSC. According to CeaseFire MD, a local organization dedicated to preventing gun violence, firearms are weapons that use gunpowder that shoot projectiles.

While Maryland law prohibits people under 18 years old from purchasing recreational guns, Simon and his friend, junior Breton Sheridan, say that obtaining them is not difficult. Sheridan, who owns two air soft guns, says that while some parents condemn air soft, he and his friends still manage to indulge in this pastime. The boys simply find a parent willing to give them a credit card and purchase the guns over the Internet.

Harsh reality

After convincing his parents to help them order the guns on the Internet, Sheridan and his friends waited anxiously for days for the UPS truck to arrive. Twelve days later, eight guns arrived. With guns in hand, the boys ducked, dived and dipped in game after game of air soft in a Takoma Park backyard.

Many teenagers like Sheridan believe air soft to be harmless. "There is a misconception that kids playing with guns leads to kids wanting guns," says Sheridan. "We play with guns but are adamantly against the owning of real guns even by legal adults."

Simon acknowledges the risk of injury and explains that he and his friends have their own set of safety rules. Wearing goggles and aiming well below an opponent's face are two basic safety rules of air soft. Despite these precautions, though, accidents do happen.

Parental damage control

One time, while playing air soft in a friend's basement, Sheridan and his friends experienced opposition to air soft. The parent came downstairs, saw pellets flying across the room and immediately banned the use of guns in the house.

While some parents have decided to take an active stand against air soft, others support it as a hobby. When her son showed interest in air soft, one Blair parent who did not want to be identified, decided to allow her son to purchase air soft guns. "They are pretty harmless in terms of what else they could be doing at this age," she says.

While some parents do not have a problem with air soft guns, they are concerned with the consequences that could result from unregulated exposure. Playing with the guns in open areas could cause neighbors to think they are real guns, they say, and police who see these would assume they are real weapons and could react with their own real guns.

Because there have been problems with mistaken identifications, Maryland has created precautions designed to eliminate further confusion. It is illegal to own an air soft gun if the weapon does not have a defining orange tip. Sheridan explains the design, and explains that manufactures often go a step further with an orange strip or a clear base. Many times the guns are downsized to a half or a third of the actual size.

Sheridan and his friends have never been in a situation where their guns could be mistaken for real ones. "It is a worry, but I've never had that kind of problem because people tend to be cautious when playing air soft and not run around the street waving the guns," he says. "People tend to play in a contained areas like inside a house or in a fenced backyard. But, I definitely see how they could be mistaken for real guns."

"Like most activities that adolescent boys are attracted to there are some risks, we acknowledge the risks," Sheridan says. "But with using the proper safety precautions the fun and the excitement of air soft far outweighs the danger."

Last updated: April 23, 2021, 12:52 p.m.



Miriam Ragen. Miriam Ragen is a senior. Her favorite things are harry potter, the heroes wall, seattle and how awkward kate is. You can usually find her awkwardly pulling at her shirt sleeves. More »

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